Perry St.

176 Perry St. New York, NY 10014(212) 352-1900 • perrystrestaurant.com

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Jean, Jean, Jean… Is it possible that after SO many restaurants you are finally starting to spread yourself too thin? Not to take anything away from you, because quite frankly I think you’ve done the impossible. I can’t think of one other chef in the Tri-State who has as many truly great restaurants. So give yourself a pat on the back for Jean-Georges, Mercer Kitchen, ABC Kitchen, ABC Cocina and The Inn at Pound Ridge. But not even Babe Ruth batted a thousand, so I am sad to report that Perry St. might be Jean’s first brush with mortality.

Of course I am only speaking in terms of comparability, because Perry St. is still good by all normal human accounts. But no one ever accused me of being normal, and neither is Jean, so when you play the game at a higher level, the bad news is that you have to keep it up. And since Perry St. was listed on many a “Top Ten” list of 2015, the hype bar was set only that much higher.

The knives started falling early as we entered to one of Jean’s least impressive décor’s yet. Sure, it’s clean and contemporary, but it also feels a lot like a trendy hotel lobby and nowhere near as nice as his last three openings. But that’s not even why I’m docking the knives. It’s more because of the flow, or lack thereof. You see, the hostess, while stunning in appearance, is equally stunning-ly bad in seating parties with reservations in a semi-timely manner. As a result, the sliver of a bar area becomes so over-crowded and noisy that it takes away from any attempt at elegance for the surrounding tables, which is about 50% of the restaurant. Then there are the back corners of the dining room, both left and right, which are so secluded that no one would ever want to sit there, especially the one on the right, across from the bathrooms, which have their own issues as well. Now I’m not exactly sure what the hold up was, but let’s just say there’s a bit of a logjam at the ole WC, causing a line so long they actually have a sofa there in case your knees buckle from the wait.

Once seated at our table, however, things did take a turn for the better, thankfully. Our waiter was attentive and the food was good. Sadly not quite as spectacular as one might be led to believe from all the press and Yelpers, but definitely good.

Of the starters I would say Perry went two-for-two, the winners being the Spanish octopus with Romanesco sauce, pickled peppers and potatoes. It’s not quite an Ultimate, but it’s just about as close as it gets. The other winner is the shockingly delicious mushroom dish. In fact, they are so awesome that you owe it to yourselves to get an order in the middle to share.

Equally shocking, unfortunately, is that one of the misses is actually the seared foie gras. Nowhere near as transcendent as it should be for such a guilty pleasure. I mean c’mon, if you’re gonna torture a goose, at least make it worth the ride.

The other miss for me was the snapper sashimi. Not only did I find it to be very basic, the one touch of inventiveness made it feel as if you were chewing on bits of seashell and sand along with the fish.

The entrees rallied strong though with the lemongrass lobster. It’s excellent and worth every pretty penny. As is the duck. The beef tenderloin proved to be the weakest of the three, served with broccoli, broccoli pesto and chimichurri. The steak itself is cooked like a champ. Charred on the outside, moist and pink on the inside. But the flavors of the pesto and chimichurri just didn’t wow, which is especially surprising because the tenderloin is always one of the best dishes at The Inn at Pound Ridge, no matter what the preparation du jour, so I thought I was golden. But apparently I was just bronze.

Dessert also served up a mixed bag, the better of the two being the passion fruit soufflé with passion fruit sorbet. It’s done very well, but doubling down on the same flavor seems like a bit of a missed opportunity. Whereas the brown butter carrot cake was just okay. Nothing I would ever sing about. Not that I should ever be singing with my voice.

So, without a single Ultimate and an admittedly clunky experience I have a hard time giving Perry the thumbs up. But there are many strong dishes to be had, so I can’t exactly give it the Julius Caesar either. Which leaves us with…

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El Parador Café

325 E 34th St. New York, NY 10016(212) 679-6812elparadorcafe.com

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I have a warm and fuzzy place in my heart for El Parador. Not just because it’s the oldest Mexican restaurant in the city. Nor because I had my engagement party here. And not just because my best friend had their rehearsal dinner there either. Not even  because they have some seriously kick-ass margaritas- but mostly because of that last one. These are not just your boring old citrus based margaritas, however, we’re talkin’ frozen tamarind margaritas. And the crazy thing is, I’m not even a frozen margarita kinda guy. I’m rocks/salt all the way! Well, not all the way, I suppose, since I dig on these, but you get my point, they’re good enough to make you a convert.

The other thing I love about this place is the service. It’s always extremely warm and friendly and the owner is almost always there, making sure you’re happy and taken care of, which is key. But at the end of the day, we all know these are “nice-to-haves” and that the only thing that truly matters are the foodstuffs. Well, The Inn (English translation for El Parador) has no problema in that department either. But I don’t recommend going here for your typical cheap Mexican fix. First, because Parador is anything but cheap. And second, because Parador is a bit more of a class act, serving up a mean mole, a succulent ceviche and a plentiful paella. In fact, most everything falls somewhere between good and excellent and the misses are scarce.

Due to its age, it is a touch old-school to be fair, but old-school in an authentic, charming way. Granted some might find the cuisine to be a touch dated compared to the likes of more inventive places such as The Black Ant, ABC Cocina and Cosme, but there’s also something to be said for respecting tradition. Tradition! Tradition! (To be sung like Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof).

So head on over to El Parador and pay your respects to a culinary trailblazer. You owe to yourself. And, should you need a great place to throw a party, I do highly recommend the private room downstairs.

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The Black Ant

60 2nd Ave. New York, NY 10003 • (212) 598-0300blackantnyc.com

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I don’t know about you, but I’m a sucker for restaurants named after colorful animals. The Purple Pig in Chicago, Yellow Dog Eats in Orlando, The Golden Goat in Eze, France… And there are many more where those came from- Well, now you add yet another to the list, The Black Ant, and while black is technically not a “color,” (it’s a value) if you can find it in a box of Crayolas, as far as I’m concerned, it’s a color.

The place is very cozy and charming inside, playing to its name with a gigantic ant mural and ant wallpaper. And the service is rather jubilant (note the clever use of an adjective containing the word “ant” within it- two points for me!), a noteworthy plus to the dining experience, because it becomes infectious and it’s almost impossible to have a bad time here because of it. Well, because of that or the margaritas. And actually just the smoky jalapeno margarita, which was spicy and smoky as one might expect. The blood orange variety is actually a bit of a miss if you ask me. Much better ones to be had at ABC Cocina in the city or Truck in Bedford, NY.

As for the guac, however, you’d be hard-pressed to find better, or as interesting, made so by loading it with goodies like chipotle, black ant salt, quesillo and garbanzos done in a way that is very reminiscent of corn nuts, all waging a textural tango on your tongue, between creamy and crunchy.

The fries are also done with a cultural flair, foregoing the potatoes in lieu of cactus. Now I can’t exactly say I’ve had a plethora of cactus fries in my life to compare these with, but I feel pretty comfortable in saying that this is probably the most joy a cactus has ever given someone since peyote.

For a taco, I definitely recommend the enchapulinados (fried shrimp). But again, Black Ant doesn’t seem to do anything the easy way, so instead of coconut or panko these shrimp are crusted with grasshoppers. No, not the cocktail. The insect. Accompanied with habanero, garlic aioli and cabbage slaw, all lovingly dolloped on a homemade tortilla. It’s not quite an Ultimate, but it is quite good.

As for my entrée, this was the biggest let down of the night, other than the blood orange margarita. I followed the recommendation of the waitress who suggested the buñuelos de pato, which are essentially fried wontons filled with duck, smothered in mole and cotija cheese, served up with a kumquat salad. It’s not bad I suppose, but after her two previous fried recommendations I started to get a little fried on fried things. And I’m not exactly sure why she didn’t recommend that short rib looker above or the stunning fish dish you’ll find on their website. I can only assume she just has a thing for fried foods, but I’m also not ruling out the possibility that she was trying to kill me.

Well, I would’ve thought that had she not followed it up with the best recommendation of the night, the Piña Loca for dessert. It’s a warm cake and ice cream served over a caramelized pineapple pancake and all I can say is muy bien!

Definitely a worthwhile visit and I look forward to returning with wifey. But when I do, I’m skipping the duck.

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The Ultimate Guacamole

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When it comes to great guac, I have to admit I’m a bit of a priss. Okay, so I’m prissy in general as a rule, but only as it pertains to good food. As for the complexity or simplicity, I whole-heartedly appreciate both. But when it comes to guac, I have to say I kinda prefer the fuss. No simple old mashed up avocado will do for this cat, oh no, no, no. You gotta earn my lovin’ with a little magic in your mush. Below are three of my favorite magicians.

The Ninth Door – Denver, CO

This is the most inventive guac of the three, and more inventive than any I’ve ever seen before or since. It starts with an avocado cut in half, then they flash fry it with a little panko and fill the divot where the pit use to be with pico de gallo. The end result is so unforgettable you’ll hear Natalie Cole singing in your ears while your mouth and your eyes are still busy recovering from the rapture.

ABC Cocina – NY

Jean Georges always seems to find a way to take the basics and turn them into brilliance. From caprese salad to foie gras terrine to guac he really knows how to make you feel like you’re tasting something again for the first time. The dial here is a simple one, however, simply adding sunflower seeds to the green stuff and serving it up along side a wonderful grapefruit salsa and oversized, fresh-baked chips.

Rosa Mexicano – New York, NY

For the purists, I offer up the remarkably fresh, table-side prepared guac at Rosa. I’ve been to hordes of other places that try to do the same, but somehow it always pales by comparison. I’m not sure how or why, but whatever they’re doing, they manage to pull it off at every location too. Also, one of the things I love most about it is that they customize the heat. You like spicy, they throw in more jalapenos. You like crazy spicy, just ask for habaneros. That’s what I do and it’s guac-a-holy-mole!

The Ultimate Cocktail

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Maysville – New York, NY

Being that I’m a heat-seeker it should come as no surprise that I even like my drinks spicy. And what makes the alchemy of the Bourbon Bonnet such a triumph isn’t just the spice. It’s the refreshing contrast of elements, like the sweetness of the pineapple juice against the jalapeno infused bourbon. And while the spiciness is worth a warning for some, the bigger caution is that they are WAY too easy to drink. So much so that you’ll easily be three or four in before you even realize you left your underwear in the bathroom.

Minetta Tavern – New York, NY

While you’re sitting there stuck at the bar waiting for a table, do yourself a solid and turn lemons into a warm and fuzzy buzzy. Three sheets to the wind later you’ll care less about the fact that you just waited two hours for a burger. The drink is comprised of Tito’s Vodka, cucumber, agave nectar, rhubarb bitters, lime and something that apparently makes you fall in love with the notion of ordering a second round of Rhubarb Sophies.

The Rickhouse – San Francisco, CA

There’s something about this place that just makes you want to drink whiskey. And there’s something about the La Bonne Vie that makes you lose track of that whiskey. I would imagine the smooth bourbon is partly to blame. And the refreshing lemon and grapefruit juice doesn’t hurt either. Keeping it far from sweet. As does the fresh basil, which brightens the whole thing up. And bitters to bring an old school complexity and depth to the whole thing.

Balaboosta – New York, NY

There is a lot right about Balaboosta, but none righter than the thirst-quenching, buzz-inducing Hana. Made with Fifty Pounds Gin, triple sec, lime and arak, it’s a crazy mash up of cultures in a high ball. But apart from just being a kickass cocktail, the Hana pairs so unbelievably well with the food due to the arak.

Brushstroke – New York, NY

Apparently the Japanese Cucumber with Almond has been on New York Magazine’s top ten cocktail list 2 years running. I know this because our rather braggadocios waiter informed us of such. But as cocky as he was, he was also well within his right, because it really is quite something. Made with gin, lime, cucumber (obviously), and coarse ground roasted almonds used to dust the rim as a variation on the sugar and salt that you normally come across on most other cocktails.

Mata Chica – Ambergris Caye, BZ

It’s been a while since I was there, but that’s how enduring my love is for the rum punch at Mata Chica (of Temptation Island fame). Made by a charismatic young man named Winston, the balance of sweetness to refreshing to inebriating was dangerously perfect. Luckily you are in the middle of nowhere, with not a car in sight for miles, so drinking and driving isn’t even an option. Drinking and drowning, however…

ABC Cocina – New York, NY

You could give Tom Cruise a week and unlimited tosses and twirls with bottles and cocktail shakers, but I sincerely doubt he could ever make a cocktail as staggeringly good as the blood orange margarita at ABC. Not that there’s too much more to describe as the name of the drink itself is rather self explanatory, that said, the euphoric sensation you get when it hits your lips is beyond explanation.

Truck – Bedford, NY

I find it hard to go with just one drink here because the Power Wagon margarita is more than just a drink, it’s a franchise. A brand unto itself, spinning out seasonal versions like a game on the App Store. For example, here are some of the “updates:” grapefruit, blood orange, cranberry, pumpkin, jalapeno and of course the formidable classic. And everyone one of them is awesome. And everyone one of them is as strong as all get out, so go easy or go with a designated driver.

Burger & Barrel – New York, NY

Most Bloody Mary purists are about to scoff, so I’ll wait while you preemptively get those scoffs out of the way…. Done? Good. So, while I do indeed love the classic and have had my fair share of some delicious ones, this inventive twist on the tried and true had me at jalapenos. Made with tequila instead of vodka, the Bloody Maria puts the Mary through a Mexican lens and out comes a hybrid that could give the Prius a run for its money.

Greenpoint Fish & Lobster Co.

114 Nassau Ave. Greenpoint, NY 11222 • (718) 349-0400 • greenpointfish.com

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I love the vibe/concept of this place. A little fish market up front, with a few lucky seats lined up along a bar overlooking the kitchen, Momofuku Ko style. Sadly, the food is not anything even close to Ko style and almost everything needed seasoning.

The iced tea needed sugar, the fish sandwich and fish tacos (pictured) both needed salt and pepper, and the tacos also needed copious amounts of Tapatió. Then, after all of that, they were still lacking by comparison to the fish tacos at ABC Cocina. Granted those are the best I’ve ever had, but these might actually be down there among the worst. Overcooked and flavorless to the point where the freshness of the fish no longer mattered.

On the plus side, the blistered shishito peppers were nicely salted and worthwhile. And the lobster roll was hearty thumbs up. Packed with meat and not too much mayo. Not quite at the ranks of an Ultimate, but it would hold its own against Luke’s in my humble, and by that I mean not at all humble, opinion.

Definitely not worthy of the 4 stars you’ll see on Yelp, but if you need a good fish market, the stuff in the case looked good. Just wish someone there knew how to cook it. Luckily we walked over to Peter Pan for some donuts afterward and all was right again with the world.

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Winston

130 E Main St. Mount Kisco, NY 10549 • (914) 244-9780winstonrestaurant.com

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Well that was a pleasant surprise. We had no idea what to expect when we set foot inside, but the décor is really quite fetching with its dramatic skylight, exposed brick and divided light windows. Unfortunately they undercut its beauty a tad by over-lighting the place.

The other surprise came from how young our server was, borderline an embryo, I’m not sure he was even old enough to serve. Which brings me to the cocktails. Having read online about how great they are, we were very excited to partake. I went with the Gentleman’s Fig and wifey chose the blood orange margarita. Sadly, I can’t say we shared the same enthusiasm for the booze. For starters, the Gentleman’s Fig is so sickly sweet I’m not exactly sure what gentleman would ever order it? Granted I did, so… selfie slam! And as for the blood orange margarita, it was marginally passable. The one at Truck and ABC Cocina rock its world.

Things picked up from there, however, with two great appetizers, the salmon tartar and the beef carpaccio. Both served with an inventive twist and both worthy of a FF stamp of approval. FF being short for Ferocious Foodie. Should I not go there? Thoughts?

For mains the striped bass was well cooked and prepared with really nice flavors like pear relish, sautéed spinach and herbed potato dumplings. It was definitely the better of the two. The other being a NY Strip grilled in a cumin-mustard rub and served over smashed baby potatoes with kale in a port wine reduction. And while all of that other stuff was indeed as awesome as it sounds, the steak itself was tough and flavorless, even though it was cooked to spec, medium rare.

And the ending only weakened from there, running out of the only dessert we were interested in, the warm apple tart. But apart from walking away empty handed desert-wise, the rest of the meal was still strong enough to carry things to a solid three. Let’s see if they can impress further come round two…

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